State officials explain school accountability law to local educators

Representatives from the state Department of Education were in Kingman on Tuesday to tell school administrators what to expect from a new school accountability law.

David Garcia, associate superintendent for standards and accountability, and Anabel Aportela, director of the department's research and policy division, made a presentation as part of an area superintendents meeting.

Mike File, superintendent of schools for Mohave County, arranged the presentation.

Gov.

Jane Hull signed the Arizona Leading Education through the Accountability and Results Notification System (LEARNS) program into law May 21.

The plan will parallel a federal school accountability plan called No Child Left Behind, which was enacted in January.

"We're here to divide fact from rumor," Garcia said as the meeting began.

"Rumors spread more quickly than facts."

Garcia outlined events leading up to passage of Arizona LEARNS.

Those events included a decision by the state Board of Education last August to delay implementation of Arizona's Instrument to Measure Standards test so that students in the Class of 2006 will be the first who must successfully complete reading, writing and math tests to get a high school diploma.

A greater demand for school accountability also was part of Proposition 301, the voter-approved measure of November 2000 to increase education funding, he said.

Garcia explained how Arizona LEARNS defines standards and how his department is developing and implementing assessments.

That must be completed before students are held accountable in the testing process.

AIMS is the best assessment test now available, Garcia said.

He said between 75 and 90 percent of district curriculums are aligned with state standards.

A question was posed as to why the test and its questions are so secretive.

"There's no secret," Garcia responded.

"What's on the test is in the standards.

"We're not teaching items now.

We're teaching the standards."

Garcia said the state will release about 10 percent of high school test questions annually from now on, but not questions from elementary tests administered to grades three, five and eight.

"We don't have the money to replenish the test every year for grades three, five and eight," he said.

"A second reason is that once an item is released, a new item must be field-tested, so we must always have an item bank in place."

Problems with test scoring and release of those scores in a timely manner occurred with former test developer McGraw-Hill, Garcia said.

A second company, Harcourt Educational Measurement of El Paso, Texas, has developed a new test.

Results from the high school exams should be returned to districts in mid-July and elementary school results by August, he said.

Some school districts were late turning in tests, which delayed release of scores statewide.

Two districts that Garcia did not identify now must pay $90 per student to have their tests scored.

Mike Ford, superintendent of the Kingman Unified School District, said AIMS tests are given in February.

But if results are not returned until July, Ford asked, what happens to seniors due to graduate in May?

Garcia said to call him and he would get senior results from Harcourt Educational Measurement within 10 days, as there is a clause to that effect in the contract.

Aportela's portion of the presentation dealt with the accountability aspect of Arizona LEARNS.

One point of it concerned indicators of a school's performance and how it will be judged as underperforming, maintaining standards, improving or excelling.

A combination of AIMS and Stanford-9 test results will be analyzed, she said.

Aportela went on to explain how Arizona LEARNS will use AIMS results to indicate a school's progress.

That will come by subdividing the "approaches the standards" and "meets the standards" categories into subcategories to better determine a school's progress.

"Even though Arizona Learns and No Child Left Behind are similar in intent, we're going to eliminate some of the differences," Aportela said.

"We want to send one consistent message to schools as to how they're progressing."